It’s behind the pay wall, but Matt Meyers of ESPN the Magazine has a nice write-up about the tetragon of infield prospects in the Angels system back in 2005. You probably recognize the names: Brandon Wood, Erik Aybar, Howie Kendrick, Kendry Morales. They were the next wave of the Los Angels Angels of Anaheim, a force that would power them, and keep them cheap, for years to come. That is, if all four worked out. As we’ve seen over the years, that is rarely the case.
The Angels now face a situation where two might be regulars this season, but might not be adequate. The most prominent of the group is Howie Kendrick, who holds a .306 major league batting average over the past three seasons. Problems are that 1) his high for plate appearances is 361, meaning he’s been hurt a good deal, 2) his career OBP is .333, meaning he’s not wont to take a walk, and 3) he doesn’t have a ton of pop.
Aybar got into 98 games at short last year and put up a .277/.314/.384 line. He’s mainly known for his defense, so if he can show a bit of improvement at the plate during his age 25 season, he could become a solid regular. He’ll be no Hanley Ramirez, of course, but the idea is that he’ll save enough runs with his glove to make up for some of his offensive shortcomings. The shortstop job looks like his to lose this spring.
The other two, however, don’t look as promising. Brandon Wood has seen time in 68 major league games, racking up 157 plate appearances and striking out in 55 of them. I know we’ve discussed the overvaluation of strikeouts by some fans, but when it comes along with a .212 OBP, it’s never good. He is only 24, though, and he had a solid year in AAA — but that’s in the Pacific Coast League. You know, the one in which Bubba Crosby slugged .635 in 2003. Same goes for Morales, who slugged .543 in the PCL last season. He did have a somewhat successful stint with the Angels in 2007, though.
The Yankees face a similar issue right now, though theirs is with pitching. The troika of Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, and Ian Kennedy has been touted much like the Angels’ crew of prospects. They’re the ones who were supposed to bring in a new generation. Instead, both groups are falling victim to the reality that even can’t-miss prospects can miss.
I have mixed feeling of Meyers’s concluding sentence: “However, this is looking more like a cautionary tale of what happens when you overvalue your own talent, and hold onto it too long.” The process is a bit more complex than simply overvaluing talent on hand. It’s difficult to ascertain who will cut it in the majors and who will bust. General managers have to make that call, and clearly it’s not always the right one. That doesn’t mean that it’s always them overvaluing their talent on hand.
Another Meyers line I take issue with: “This problem has been compounded by the fact that all four of them were once heavily coveted in trade talks, and the Angels refused to part with any of them.” Again, I don’t think this is necessarily a case of overvaluing your own prospects. The Angels had a plan and they stuck to it. Perhaps there were flaws in the process, but that doesn’t mean that there were flaws in the evaluation of their own talent. The problem is that he doesn’t go into any of the trade proposals. You can only make decisions based on the information you have at the time, and at the time these supposed trade opportunities came and went, the Angels still had four top-flight infield prospects. They weren’t going to move them for just anyone, nor should they have.
It’s easy to talk about overvaluing prospects when you’re writing in hindsight. Player A was highly touted but busted? Blame it on management; they should have known their own players better. It’s never that simple, though. So many other factors have to come into consideration when evaluating a veteran for prospect trade that it’s impossible to get it right every time. As Meyer notes, some guys — he cites a great example in John Schuerholz — seem to have a knack for it. Even he has had his stumbles, though, thanks to the wonderfully unpredictable world of major league prospects.